East Coast Olive Oil Corp.'s association with olives extends to its new address: 1 Olive Grove St.

East Coast Olive Oil Corp.'s association with olives extends to its new address: 1 Olive Grove St.

The olive oil supplier is showcasing its new home at the Griffiss Business & Technology Park in Rome at a grand opening ceremony today.

The $20 million project on 22.7 acres of land included the construction of a 185,000-square-foot facility, with a quality-control lab and room for 10 production lines.

The project, which began a year ago, was the result of the company needing more space than the 71,079 square feet of space at its plant at 75 Wurz Ave. in Utica could provide, said Steve Mandia, chief executive officer of East Coast.

The company, which now has 153 employees, had also considered sites in New Jersey because they were closer to the ports it uses for importing olive oil and other products and to its customer base, he said.

The decision was made to keep the company local, and relocate to Rome.

"(Because of) our loyalty to the employees and community. And we certainly didn't want a disruption in business," said Mandia, who said the Rome site's close proximity to rail lines was also a factor.

Founded in 1991, East Coast is the largest olive oil importer in the United States, Mandia said. The company imports about 23,000 metric tons of oil per year from farmers and co-ops in Mediterranean countries, including Italy, Spain and Greece.

The company then bottles the olive oil under its GEM and Puglia brands, and vegetable oil, Tri-Fri, for the food service industry. East Coast also serves 60 percent of the private label market by bottling olive oil for retailers, including Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and Price Chopper grocery stores.

The company also bottles canola, soybean and corn oil for itself and private label brands.

Based in Lisbon, Portugal, the Nutrinveste Group acquired an 80 percent stake in East Coast in June 2005. The remaining 20 percent is owned by Steve Mandia, his brother Robert Mandia, who is vice president, his father, Francis Mandia, who retired as plant manager in May, and Dave Lofgren, who is chief financial officer.

The growth the company has experienced in 16 years is remarkable, said RJ Bateman, purchasing and logistics manager at East Coast and cousin to Steve and Robert Mandia.

"It was a start-up operation," said Bateman, who has been with the company since its inception.

He sees tremendous growth potential in the new facility.

"It gives us great opportunities to expand our product lines," he said.

Currently, the new facility operates six production lines 24 hours a day, five days a week, Bateman said.

Utica resident Dennis Dougherty Sr. has been employed at East Coast for three years.

"They care about you personally, as an individual, and they're going places," said Dougherty, who was working on the bottling production line for Carlini's extra virgin olive oil, a private label brand.

U.S. imports of olive oil has growing steadily for decades, increasing 109 percent to 563 million pounds between 1995 and 2005, according to the North American Olive Oil Association in Neptune, N.J. That increase may be due in part to olive oil being associated with health benefits, including its consumption being linked to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease because it is high in monosaturated fat.

Steve Mandia sees East Coast's market expanding to include more organics and specialty oils.

East Coast is receiving more than $9 million in county and state benefits for its new site.

That is the result of bipartisan collaboration targeted at retaining a major employer in Oneida County, Rome Mayor James Brown said.

"Without that collaboration with the development agencies, (Mohawk Valley) EDGE and all the elected officials, they would have probably gone to another area," he said.

East Coast still owns the 71,079 square feet of facility space on Wurz Avenue in Utica, but no decision has been made on how that property will be used, or if it will be sold, Steve Mandia said.

Located on two parcels - the largest is 4.02 acres, the other is 75 feet by 465 feet - the Utica property was last assessed at $590,000 in 1998, City of Utica Assessor David Williams said.